October 20, 2008

Lunchpail Longhorns get back to work ... in The Fix

Texas is No.1 in the new BCS rankings. Colt McCoy is starting to get Usain Bolt separation on the Heisman Trophy field, and another Top 10 team approaches this Saturday in No. 7 Oklahoma State.

And what was on defensive tackle Roy Miller's mind heading into Monday?

"On Monday, it's time to go to work," Miller said. "If you don't live up to your potential in practice, you're going to get yelled at. So you know you can't mess up because there's expectations on you, and if you don't fulfill them, you're going to get chewed out. That's how it is.

"Coach Muschamp does a great job keeping us level headed. We're so mature as a team. There's a lot of guys who were on that national championship team, so we're used to being a target. That No. 1 ranking is really nothing new."

Mack Brown seems to be pressing all the right buttons at the moment. He buried the OU game ball last Tuesday and gave his players increasingly bigger toys depicting Tigers (to get the focus on Missouri), starting with a key chain and ending with a pinata last week.

"It was meant to be serious, but it just kept everyone loose," said offensive lineman Cedric Dockery.

On Sunday, when the BCS rankings came out with Texas at No. 1, followed by Alabama, Penn State, OU and USC, Brown again said all the right things.

"As we said when we moved into the No. 1 spot in both polls last week, being ranked No. 1 shows respect for what we've accomplished through seven weeks of the season," Brown said.

"Our team continues to get better every week and I'm really proud of how they handled any distractions the No. 1 ranking and all of the added attention could have presented last week. But, we have a long way to
go and a lot of room to improve.

"Watching film today on Oklahoma State will get your mind off of the ratings in a hurry and definitely will grab our player's attention as we start to prepare for another great challenge in Big 12 play."

THREE THINGS …

… THAT GOT BETTER

1. Emergence of young players
- Brandon Collins, Dan Buckner, Malcolm Williams, Vondrell McGee, Foswhitt Whittaker. If these guys keep progressing, Texas gets better as a team. A lot better.

2. Colt McCoy - Hey, he completed 90.6 percent of his passes (29 of 32) and is now leading the nation with an improbable 81.2 percent completion rate. Come on. Are you kidding? And the best stories of Saturday night were Chris Ogbonnaya and Cedric Dockery saying how much information Colt gives to players before the snap based on his study. "He's constantly telling us things on the go," Ogbonnaya said. "He works at it."

3. Vertical passing game - Quietly the last two weeks, Texas' vertical passing game is starting to heat up. Seven players caught passes against Mizzou on Saturday, six of them averaged at least 10.5 yards per catch - Jordan Shipley (8-89, 11.1 ypc), Quan Cosby (7-74, 10.5), Brandon Collins (6-76, 12.6), Chris Ogbonnaya (6-68, 11.3), Dan Buckner (1-51, 51 ypc), and Malcolm Williams (1-32, 32 ypc).


… THAT STAYED THE SAME (OR GOT BETTER)

1. Running game consistency -
Missouri had held every opponent this season below its rushing average - until Saturday. Texas came in averaging 191.8 yards per game on the ground and finished with 203 and established the run early - a stated goal coming into the game. Texas was averaging 6.2 yards per carry after the first quarter, 5.6 ypc after the second quarter, 4.4 after the third quarter and 5.1 after the fourth.


2. Third-down conversions - Greg Davis hasn't been happy with third-and-short conversions for much of the season. On Saturday, it didn't matter if it was third-and-short or third-and-Mars, Texas converted. UT opened a staggering 7-of-7 on third downs in taking a 35-0 lead and finished 10-of-12. The two misses came on third-and-17 in the third quarter and third-and-7 in the fourth.

3. Offensive line cohesion - This group is really playing well. Teams have blitzed to start just about every game this season, and with the exception of the Colorado game, the O-line has gotten better each week. The success of the run game is a sign this group is imposing its will. After McCoy was sacked four times last week, he was sacked only once Saturday.

… THAT GOT WORSE

1. Defensive intensity in the second half -
Roy Miller was afraid to watch film on Sunday with Will Muschamp after the defense (mostly second- and third-teamers) gave up four second-half touchdowns, including UT's first and second rushing TDs allowed for the season. Texas was the only team in Division I-A that hadn't given up a rushing TD before Saturday.

2. Too many penalties - The penalty bug was back - eight for 80 yards. All of them were in the second half and most were against second-teamers. The only flags on starters were against Kyle Hix for a false start; Brian Orakpo for roughing the passer (helmet to helmet); and Chris Hall for holding - all in the third quarter. These were indicative of the sloppy play in the second half.

3. Turnover margin - This is a real nitpick - but Ryan Palmer flat out dropped a pick-six in the first half. In a tight game, Texas has to have that play. The Longhorns, however, won the turnover battle 1-0 and now are plus-4 this season in turnover margin. The great teams get to double digits in this category. There's still time.


NEXT OPPONENT - OKLAHOMA STATE (7-0)

The Cowboys are 7-0 for the first time since going 9-0 in 1945 and are a Top 10 team for the first time since 1988, when coach Mike Gundy was playing quarterback with a running back named Barry Sanders. OSU quarterback Zac Robinson is actually a shade ahead of Colt McCoy in pass efficiency nationally. Robinson is No. 3 (191.9), while McCoy is No. 4 (190.8) That stat tends to favor yards per pass attempt, and Robinson is averaging 11.1 yards per attempt. (McCoy is averaging 9.6 ypa.) Only Tulsa's David Johnson is averaging more than Robinson with 12.0 yards per attempt.

The story lately for the Cowboys is the emergence of WR Dez Bryant of Lufkin, who has 11 TD receptions and is second nationally in receiving yards per game (115.6 ypg). OSU has a staggering nine players averaging at least 10.3 yards per catch (Texas has five), including Bryant who averages 18 yards per catch (45 for 809). RB Kendall Hunter of Tyler is sixth nationally in rushing (136.4 ypg, 6.3 ypc), and OSU has three backs averaging at least 6.3 yards per carry (Keith Toston 65-487, 7.5 ypc; and Beau Johnson 42-276, 6.3 ypc). The Cowboys are fifth in rushing offense (283.1 ypg) and fourth in scoring offense (46.4 ppg). OSU has given up only five sacks all season, so teams aren't getting to Robinson, and his quick feet help him elude the rush.

The Cowboys' defense is improved. After giving up 29.5 ppg last season, Tim Beckman's defense is giving up 20.6 ppg this season. Safety Andre Sexton of Cypress Falls leads the team in tackles. CB Jacob Lacey of Garland Naaman Forest, who intercepted Colt McCoy three times last season, leads the Cowboys with 10 pass breakups.

Amazingly, Oklahoma State has led Texas by sizable margins in the first half in four of the last five years - by nine points (16-7) in 2003; by 28 (35-7) in 2004; by 19 (28-9) in 2005; and by 21 (21-0 and 35-14) in 2007 - before losing to the Longhorns. Texas has won 10 straight against OSU and needed a last-second field goal by Ryan Bailey last year to escape Boone Pickens Stadium with a 38-35 victory.

BIG 12 POWER RANKINGS

1. TEXAS (7-0)

Last week:
No. 1

This Saturday: Oklahoma State

Bottom line: The Longhorns are lost in their own blue-collar world, oblivious to the distractions of all those trying to climb on the bandwagon.

Chip's pick: Will come later in the week

2. OKLAHOMA STATE (7-0)

Last week:
No. 3

This Saturday: at Texas

Bottom line: Like the Longhorns, most think this team is a year away.

3. OKLAHOMA (6-1)

Last week:
No. 2

This Saturday: at Kansas St.

Bottom line: OU defense has issues, but not so many Ron Prince and K-State can expose them.

Chip's pick: OU 52, K-State 20

4. KANSAS (5-2)

Last week:
No. 6

This Saturday: Texas Tech

Bottom line: Todd Reesing and Dezmon Briscoe have this team playing at a high level right now. Briscoe finished with 12 catches for 269 yards and two TDs at OU last week in a 45-31 loss.

Chip's pick: Kansas 38, Texas Tech 35

5. MISSOURI (5-2)

Last week:
No. 4

This Saturday: Colorado

Bottom line: The Tigers' defense is beat up right now, but Chase Daniel and Jeremy Maclin keep them ahead of Texas Tech for now.

Chip's pick: Mizzou 31, Colorado 24

6. TEXAS TECH (7-0)

Last week:
No. 5

This Saturday: at Kansas

Bottom line: Tech's offense won't be able to hide some real holes, such as the team's pass defense, it's horrible kicking game (104th in net punting and a FG kicker who misses extra points regularly) and sloppy, penalized tendencies.

7. COLORADO (4-3)

Last week:
No. 7

This Saturday: at Missouri

Bottom line: Dan Hawkins took a huge risk by benching son, Cody, at quarterback and burning the redshirt of Tyler Hansen, who came in and gave the Buffaloes a spark in a come-from-behind 14-13 win at home against Kansas State. QB issues, however, will keep CU from pulling the upset in Columbia.

8. KANSAS ST. (4-3)

Last week:
No. 8

This Saturday: Oklahoma

Bottom line: K-State can't stop anyone from running the football, giving up 190.6 yards per game on the ground.

9. BAYLOR (3-4)

Last week:
No. 9

This Saturday: at Nebraska

Bottom line: This will be Art Briles' signature win of Year 1, an upset in Lincoln, where the Bears have lost eight straight, including three shutouts, by an average of 32 points.

Chip's pick: Baylor 31, Nebraska 28

10. NEBRASKA (4-3)

Last week:
No. 10

This Saturday: Baylor

Bottom line: The Cornhuskers in a flat spot, having just won big on the road at Iowa State and one week from traveling to Oklahoma. Baylor's Robert Griffin will make just enough plays for the green and gold to shock the corn.

11. TEXAS A&M (2-5)

Last week:
No. 12

This Saturday: at Iowa State

Bottom line: In a battle of the bottom feeders, this is a must-win in the Mike Sherman Era. But it wouldn't surprise me to see the Cyclones jack with the Aggies here.

Chip's pick:Texas A&M 28, Iowa State 27

12. IOWA ST. (2-5)

Last week:
No. 11

This Saturday: Texas A&M

Bottom line: Gene Chizik's defense, which had been playing well, has suddenly gone soft.


COAST TO COAST

THE TOP FIVE

1. TEXAS
- With young players emerging at wideout, running back and in the secondary, this team is getting better.

2. ALABAMA - With so much bad blood between the Tide and Tennessee, this week's game in Knoxville could tell us a lot.

3. PENN STATE - Daryll Clark and the Nittany Lions get a huge test at Ohio State this week.

4. FLORIDA - After a week off, Gators should put the hammer down on Kentucky with Georgia and the Cocktail Party looming next.

5. USC - The Trojans play second of back-to-back road games at Arizona this week


CHIP'S PICKS

PENN STATE (-1) at OHIO STATE
- It's the Nittany Lions' year

Chip's pick: Penn St. 28, Ohio State 24

USC (-14) at ARIZONA Arizona is 5-2 in a make-or-break year for Mike Stoops, which means the Cats are just good enough to get USC's attention

Chip's pick: USC 31, Arizona 17

VIRGINIA TECH at FLORIDA ST. (-6) - The Hokies have been doing it with smoke and mirrors.

Chip's pick: Florida State 24, Va. Tech 20

GEORGIA at LSU (-2.5) - The Bulldogs get the edge in quarterback play

Chip's pick: Georgia 21, LSU 17

ALABAMA (-5.5) at TENNESSEE - Lots of bad blood here, but Saban helps push Phillip Fulmer towards the door.

Chip's pick: Alabama 28, Tennessee 13


ONE FINAL THOUGHT:

I look around the country at teams capable of getting the kind of leadership on offense (Colt McCoy) and defense (Will Muschamp) that Texas is getting and I see three teams - Penn State, USC and Florida. I don't trust Alabama QB John Parker Wilson, and I think Florida's offense will start catching up to its defense. When it's all said and done, I believe two teams of those four will meet for the national title.

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